Black Performers at the White House: Past and Present


Fisk University Jubilee Singers (1872)

Created in 1871 to raise money for a struggling Fisk University, the school's choral ensemble, the Jubilee Singers, quickly won national acclaim. They performed for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House in 1872. Many years later, President George W. Bush awarded the Jubilee Singers the National Medal of Arts.


Captions by Lauren Williams

See video clips of the White House Motown Tribute.

Marie Selika Williams (1878)

A star of her time, soprano Marie Selika Williams was the first black musician to perform at the White House. She sang for President Rutherford B. Hayes, his wife and their guests.

Marian Anderson (1939)


After learning that opera singer Marian Anderson was prohibited from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who at the time had a "white performers only" policy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt helped Anderson give an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Later, she performed a private concert for them at the White House.

Sammy Davis Jr. (1973)


In 1973 the Brat Pack star performed for President Richard Nixon, who also invited him and his wife to stay the night — making them the first blacks to stay overnight at the White House since the president of Liberia and his delegation visited in 1943.

Dizzy Gillespie (1978)


Despite being friendly with Fidel Castro, legend Dizzy Gillespie was joined by other jazz luminaries at the White House jazz festival during Jimmy Carter's presidential term.

Leontyne Price (1978)


President Carter also invited opera singer Leontyne Price to the White House, where she performed in a televised concert.

Aretha Franklin (1994)


Aretha Franklin has met — and sung in front of — many presidents. But the first time she actually performed at the White House was for music lover Bill Clinton in 1994.

Earth, Wind & Fire (2000)


The same year Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, they were the special musical guests at a 2000 state dinner for the king of Morocco. Nine years later, the group would perform at the Governor's Ball.

Regina Belle (2001)


As part of a 2001 Black Music Month celebration, Regina Belle sang for President George W. Bush and Laura Bush in the East Room of the White House.

Wynton Marsalis (2009)


Wynton Marsalis and his band had the honor of playing for President Obama at a private ceremony on the day of his historic inauguration.

Esperanza Spalding (2009)


Before she became known worldwide as the woman who beat Justin Bieber at the 53rd Grammy Awards, Esperanza Spalding did her thing at a 2009 White House poetry jam.

Stevie Wonder (2009)


It's hard to believe that the first time the music legend performed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was during a 2009 concert in his honor. He also led last month's Motown tribute, along with Smokey Robinson.

Jennifer Hudson (2010)


Jennifer Hudson participated in a concert last year honoring music from the civil rights era, singing a duet with Smokey Robinson.

Beyoncé (2010)


Beyoncé brought her talents to the South Lawn last year when she performed at the state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Jamie Foxx (2011)


Not only did actor, comedian and recording artist Jamie Foxx sing a few notes during last month's Motown-inspired concert, but he also made fun of Obama's dance moves.

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